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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Congo election reporters' log: Friday
Supporters at Bemba rally

The Democratic Republic of Congo is getting ready for what should be the first free presidential elections since independence 45 years ago.

After years of conflict and misrule, this country - some two-thirds the size of western Europe - does not have a road or railway running from one side to the other.

A team of BBC reporters is covering the polls and journalists are sending their observations:

Joseph Winter, Kinshasa, Friday 28 July: 2230 local time

Excellent - just hooked up to Wi-fi internet access in my hotel in Kinshasa.

Not a total shock - that was Wi-fi in Liberia - but still a reminder of the pace of technological change, even in the most deprived and war-ravaged countries.

Today has been my lucky day - as well as getting the last room in this hotel, I also got a flight from Lubumbashi back to the capital with Monuc, the UN Mission in DR Congo.

I was expecting a rather stark military transport plane but was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a stewardess wearing a smart yellow uniform with red trim.

The inside of the Boeing 727 looked like any commercial aircraft - but then Monuc spokesman Kemal Saiki told me that with 92 aircraft, the Monuc fleet is the second largest in Africa, after South Africa Airways.

No food was served but the passengers - a mixture of peacekeeping troops, UN aid workers, Congolese officials and other hangers-on such as myself - were offered a cup of Monuc-branded water.

In a country as devastated as this, foreign agencies have to do just about everything for themselves.

Congo rally
Political rallies have been vibrant affairs
But the best thing about flying with Monuc rather than a Congolese commercial airline was the lack of hassle at the airport.

Even on an internal flight, I had to show my passport, ticket, boarding pass, etc to a variety of uniformed officials - who all demanded a "little something" for doing their job - checking your papers, putting your hand luggage through an X-ray machine, whatever.

As we arrived in Kinshasa, after a straightforward flight, while the ground beneath us changed from savannah to lush forest and the Congo river basin, I half-expected the stewardess to say: "Thank you for flying Monuc air. Please travel with us again soon."

She almost did.

And then back to the sticky, sweltering city on the Atlantic side of the continent.

On the last day of campaigning before Sunday's elections, one group of opposition supporters decided to try and win votes by driving a convoy of cars at walking pace down the only road from the airport to the city centre, waving their flags and chanting slogans.

As a result, there was a huge traffic jam and it took as long to get the 30km (18 miles) from Ndjili airport to central Kinshasa.

I don't think they will have made themselves popular with many Kinshasa motorists.

Stephane Mayoux, Kinshasa, Friday 28 July: 1600 local time

Before I arrived in DR Congo I had read there was a holy trinity: Church, music and beer.

And it's absolutely true.

The church is everywhere - the taxi drivers play gospel music, and the Roman Catholic Church is the most influential force in society. You could say it's replaced the state.

Even for someone who's not religious - I went to church, and I found it very moving.

Supporters of President Joseph Kabila
Campaigning is drawing to a close
And the music - our team had a treat when we went to interview Papa Wemba, Congo's most famous musician, and he sang us a song urging people to vote.

We went to do a broadcast in a very populous district that is the heart of rhumba music. When we arrived there at four in the morning, people were coming out of the clubs.

As for the beer - Primus in 60cl bottles, there's nothing like that at the end of the day.

Another observation: While we were waiting outside an office to speak to one of the opposition candidates, I heard a child crying - a man was holding the child by the hand, while a woman was shouting and gesticulating.

As I walked closer I started hearing the phrase "droits de l'enfant" (children's rights) - the man was protecting the child from the mother.

It was interesting to hear a member of the public calling on the rights of the child.

It says something about the awareness programmes about human rights that there have been in DR Congo.

And on a more personal note: The hotel where I am staying is the Al Hadef, named after the family who founded it, who were part of the big Jewish community who lived here long ago.

The Al Hadef family were from the Greek island of Rhodes. My wife's family are also from there - and her grandmother was an Al Hadef.

Joseph Winter, Lubumbashi, Friday 28 July: 1300 local time

Today is by far the noisiest day of the campaign in Lubumbashi. Lots of different parties are striding around town blaring out their message through loudspeakers and playing dance music.

Supporters of Joseph Kabila are marching around the city waving victory signs - maybe a couple of hundred including a lot of children and some traditional dancers in the middle.

Mark Doyle, Kinshasa, Friday 28 July: 1300 local time

It was one of those quintessentially Congolese moments. I was in a traffic jam in central Kinshasa when I saw, or thought I saw, something I have never seen in my life - a taxi driver arresting a cop.

The traffic policeman - in his trademark bright yellow uniform and blue helmet - was being literally picked up and roughly bundled into the back seat of a saloon car.

Quite how they squeezed him I don't know because there were already four people in the back seat of the taxi. Along with the cop and the two men in civilian clothing who threw him into the car, that made seven. There were three in the front as well.

But then I realised that my eyes had deceived me.

As the car pulled away, the other traffic policemen who had gathered to watch the fracas saluted smartly. The man who had arrested the cop was not the taxi driver at all but a soldier in civilian clothes.

One can easily imagine the scenario. The policeman sees some fault in the taxi perhaps, and, as is normal here, demands a tip for not reporting it.

Not realising who he is dealing with, the policeman insists too much and an argument ensues. So the soldier who gets involved in the argument decides to take the law into his hands.

Congo has always been a place where soldiers do almost as they please. It started in colonial times when the King of Belgium, Leopold II, appropriated this vast land for himself and created the hated Force Publique to control the population.

This brutal force lived by looting and didn't hesitate to chop off peoples' hands if they didn't tap their daily quota of rubber collected for the profit of the colonial masters.

Post independence Congolese leaders took their cue from this example and the national army has, for most of its existence, been a predatory force which takes what it wants from the people.

Most Congolese soldiers have never been in a real fight against professional forces and when they have - for example when Rwanda invaded in 1998 - they melt away.

The UN is trying to change that. Soldiers from a European Union mission here are trying to make sure the soldiers are paid.

Traditionally, senior Congolese officers have stolen a large slice of their soldiers' pay, leaving foot soldiers to be "self provisioning".

The wider UN mission is trying to form the various disparate units, some of which are little more than militias, into a truly national army. They have some way to go.

Joseph Winter, Lubumbashi, Friday 28 July: 1100 local time

On the last day of campaigning before Sunday's elections, the different parties are trying to drum up a few last-minute conversions.

As I was having breakfast, I could hear the sound of slogans being blasted out from loudspeakers attached to the top of minibuses driving around town.

With so many candidates competing and a ballot paper the size of a newspaper, much of the campaigning is focusing on making sure a candidate's supporters put their cross in the right box in a country where much of the population cannot read or write.

President Kabila reminded his supporters to vote for number 7, while his opponent, Azarias Ruberwa, who finds himself at the bottom of the list of 32 presidential candidates spent much of his speech urging his supporters to "Ignore number 1, ignore number 2, ignore number 3... until you get to number 32."

He has not had the luck of the draw.

Meanwhile, his RCD party has a song playing on local radio stations urging people to vote for candidate number 284 on page 4.

This ballot paper sounds like a recipe for confusion.

Bemba supporters
Rallies are attracting large crowds

People here are getting anxious as D-day arrives: "Who do you think will win?" people keeping asking me. Especially after Thursday's violence in Kinshasa, "Will there be violence when the results are announced?" "Will the election be free and fair?"

Very important questions, which should be answered soon.

Many people fear that ex-rebels, like Mr Ruberwa, will resort to arms if they do not win.

Last night he told me that if the elections are not free and fair, he will prevent a "false leader" from governing the country but "through democratic means".

Orla Guerin, Goma, Friday 28 July: 0930 local time

We've been driving around Goma; in the city centre you travel on unpredictable roads coated in lava.

During the last volcanic eruption in 2002 the city centre was destroyed and a carpet of black lava remains as a reminder of the destruction.

You can see the tide mark left by the lava - on some buildings it reaches to the third floor. The lava covered homes and offices, people have simply built again on top of it.

Around town you see lots of posters for the various presidential candidates, including the incumbent, Joseph Kabila.

We've seen some people wearing his t-shirt, including one of the waiters at our hotel.

People here say he's promised to restore electricity and water supplies to the city before the election on 30 July and it hasn't happened yet.

That will cost him some votes but he's popular here and expected to do well.


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